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Title: Organisational Culture at Mars Incorporated Teacher's pick

Analysis essay: 

Analysis essays build and support a position and argument through critical analysis of an object of study using broader concepts.

Copyright: Annyssia Gonsalves


Second year

Description: Analyse the organisational culture at a firm of your choice, indicating whether the firm manufactures a culture or if it is generated naturally by employees. Discuss using relevant theories and analyse the firm's culture from a mainstream and critical perspective.

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Organisational Culture at Mars Incorporated

Culture is an important organisational facet and plays a vital role in influencing employee behaviour. This essay focuses on the culture at Mars Incorporated and relates it to Schien, Handy and Peters and Waterman’s theories on culture and management. It also discusses some of the seven aspects of Mars’ organisational culture. Furthermore, the mainstream and critical perspectives on culture are compared, whilst explaining why Mars has a manufactured culture and how this benefits them. Finally the essay debates whether the culture at Mars has led to its overall success.

Organisational culture is defined as “the shared values and beliefs that provide the norms of expected behaviour in an organisation” (Hogan & Coote, 2014, p.1). Organisational culture outlines what is important to that business and what its overall objective is. It provides a blueprint for employees on how to perform certain tasks and how to relate to other colleagues. Kermally (2005) explains that the strength of an organisation’s culture informs the employee how easy it is to know how to behave. In a firm with a strong culture, it is relatively easier to know what behaviour is expected as opposed to a business with a weaker culture, where the behaviours and attitudes emerge naturally.

Mars Incorporated (Mars) produces goods ranging from pet care, to food and drinks to health products. It contains a variety of billion-dollar brands, including MnMs, Snickers, Wrigley, Pedigree, Masterfoods, Dolmio and Flavia (Marketline, 2015). Established in 1922, this family-run business focuses on performing the Five Principles that constitute the foundation of its organisational culture (Marketline, 2015). Mars, Incorporated (2003) explains these as Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom. There is also an implied culture of goodwill at the organisation and Crainer (2014) explicates that Mars wants its employees to improve society and to learn and grow with Mars.

Several aspects describe an organisation’s culture, including the psychological contract (the implied expectations of the organisation and employees of each other) (Knights & Wilmott, 2012). At Mars, the owners expect their staff to be creative, constantly thinking and improving their skills, whilst the staff expect their roles at Mars to reflect the vibrant, exciting nature of their brands (Crainer, 2014). Knights and Wilmott (2012) explain that another aspect is the organisation’s relationship with society, including any corporate social responsibilities it has. Mars initiates programs that aim at creating a sustainable environment and helping the community (Kaplan & Adamo, 2013). Crainer (2014) describes experiences of employees who have taken part in the Mars Volunteer and Ambassador Programs where employees contribute to the well-being of their communities or visit Ghana to understand the process of growing cocoa beans. These aspects, among others are what determine how the culture in an organisation emerges.

Assessing an organisation’s culture is difficult because it is determined by an individual’s thoughts and values. However, Hogan and Coote (2014) state that even though culture is invisible, it is still an imperative force that governs organisational behaviour, effectiveness and performance. Schein attempts to define culture according to three aspects/levels, the first being artefacts, which are the tangible features accessible to the senses (Knights & Wilmott, 2012). At Mars there are suits and lab coats that employees wear, the posters of the Five Principles displayed on the walls, the computer screens dispersed throughout the offices that constantly update staff on current financials and even the employment of staff who share similar morals and attitudes (Cubiks, 2010). These artefacts infuse a shared purpose and mission in employees and reiterate the team aspect of a business.

The second level is the espoused values which Hogan and Coote (2014) state are the expectations of the acceptable behaviours of members in an organisation. According to Knights and Wilmott (2012) these are difficult to measure or ‘see’ but individuals are conscious of them. At Mars, this is the family atmosphere, where Mars owners view their staff as family members and the business as the staff’s legacy. Another espoused value is the equality of opportunity within the organisation, regardless of gender or ethnicity (Cubiks, 2010). This lack of discrimination encourages employees to constantly improve their skills, knowing that any promotion will be awarded solely on the basis of merit. Another value is the social nature of the organisation. Mars encourages interactions with other staff through the use of social rooms and by using escalators instead of elevators (Morand, 1998). This facilitates informal face-to-face contact among staff and nurtures the amicable ‘family’ atmosphere. Espoused values manifest in the company’s artefacts, so what is visible is often derived from the invisible aspects (Hogan & Coote, 2014).

The third level is the basic assumptions, which are the unconscious and deeply rooted values that staff share (Knights & Wilmott, 2012). They are the philosophies that direct behaviour and inform staff on how to carry out practices (Hogan & Coote, 2014). In Mars this could be the idea that staff have a greater purpose in society, in addition to contributing to the success of the organisation (Crainer, 2014). The espoused values are derived from the assumptions, and manifest through practices such as the Mars Volunteer and Ambassador programs (Hogan & Coote, 2014). Although the basic assumptions are difficult to understand, it is the force that drives staff and intuitively guides them in their routines within the organisation.

Kermally (2005) explains that all organisations can be divided into one of four of Handy’s cultures, based on the organisation’s history, structure, ownership and environment. Mars fits into the task culture, where the key values are expertise and teamwork (Knights & Wilmott, 2012). This culture thrives in competitive and volatile markets or industries such as the food industry in which Mars operates (Knights & Wilmott, 2012). In this culture, creativity is vital and strong communication is essential to anticipate and adapt to change (Kermally, 2005). Crainer (2014) explains that Mars employees receive a mentor during their first year to introduce them to the culture. The open floor plan layout of the offices at Mars encourages communication and further emphasises the teamwork aspect of this culture. Furthermore, Mars employs individuals who are innovative and independent (Robison, 2008). These practices are essential in a task culture that operates in rapidly changing markets.

Peters and Waterman, as described by Van de Ven (1983) formulated eight cultural qualities that successful organisations have. One of these is the hands-on, value-driven characteristic that managers must work among subordinates, instead of dictating over them (Knights & Wilmott, 2012). Morand (1998) explains that at Mars, the CEO’s desk is in the middle of the floor, which creates a sense of collegiality and shared authority among colleagues, whilst demolishing any hierarchies. This leads onto the next characteristic which is that of simple form and lean staff. This promotes the abandoning of hierarchies, seen at Mars through their ‘universal first naming’ implied policy, where titles are abolished (Morand, 1998). Another value is the productivity through people, emphasising the importance of the employee as a resource (Van de Ven, 1983). At Mars, the owners are actively involved in the business and regularly work among staff and praise or reward them for any success (Crainer, 2014). This positive reinforcement increases employee pride and motivation. These three qualities among others are visible in Mars and according to Van de Ven (1983) create a singular optimal culture or way of carrying out practices that all staff share and believe in.

This view of one best culture by Peters and Waterman, leads to the mainstream perspective which describes culture as something an organisation ‘has’ (Knights & Wilmott, 2012). Knights and Wilmott (2012) state that according to the mainstream approach, culture is a variable, created and manipulated by management to unite staff and create a common goal, whilst reducing any conflict. At Mars, The Five Principles were created by the owners and are reinforced in every place, task and employee at Mars (Mars, Incorporated, 2003). This produces a top-down, manufactured culture, generated by senior management and followed by staff. Management’s informal directions and rules about the culture are what create the shared homogenous beliefs that all employees have (Saffold III, 1988). Saffold III (1988) explains that an advantage of this strong culture is that it generates an irreplaceable energy that empowers staff towards greater performance. Conversely, the mainstream approach of a strong culture may cause complacency and reduce creativity among staff (Knights & Wilmott, 2012). Furthermore, a strong culture can cause an organisation to become inflexible or slow to change, which can reduce competitiveness in the market. However, these factors are miniscule at Mars. According to (Robison, 2008) independence and originality are rewarded in Mars employees. Additionally, Crainer (2014) states that being in the unstable food industry, complacency is non-existent and Mars continuously adapts to retain their competitive advantage.

The critical perspective maintains that organisational culture is constructed naturally by employees and is a metaphor for the organisation, not something that management can manipulate (Knights & Wilmott, 2012). The critical view emphasises a weaker culture, where the same values are not shared by all employees (Saffold III, 1988). Since the owners and managers at Mars have essentially controlled the company culture, Mars is seen to follow the mainstream perspective of a shared culture.

Culture is a vital organisational element and like any other organisational component, it must contribute to the success of the business. Kaliprasad (2006) states that high-performance cultures promote teamwork and commitment to the organisation. The owners and managers at Mars instil the ‘family’ culture into their staff. Robison (2008) explains that Mars managers stress the importance of allowing their employees to perceive their jobs as managing multi-billion dollar businesses rather than selling sweets. This contributes to the ‘family’ culture by emphasising that everyone has an equally significant role in the organisation and that the owners’ legacy is also the staff’s legacy. It inspires staff to work towards success. This family culture is what allows Mars to have a geographical presence in more than 74 countries, yet still remain a single unified team across borders (Marketline, 2015). Santora (2009) continues that the more an organisation’s culture values goal-setting, the more it will have a positive impact on its performance and lead to success. Mars updates staff on the business’ performance by displaying the current financials around offices. This allows employees to compare results against goals to see how their work is paying off and offers an incentive to work harder (Crainer, 2014).  It is this goal-oriented culture that has led Mars to be the third largest privately owned company in the USA (Crainer, 2014).

Baker (1980) exaggerates the importance of managers who are hands-on and actively participate in the business’ culture and daily tasks. These managers, says Baker (1980) create a culture of success through their effective role modelling. A strong manufactured culture can cause staff to conform to expected behaviours (Knights & Wilmott, 2012). Knowing this, managers at Mars ensure that their behaviour positively influences and inspires staff to contribute to the organisation’s success. Morand (1998) explains that positioning the CEO’s desk in the middle of the floor and the open-plan offices at Mars both expel the notion of a hierarchy or of managers being superior to other employees. Crainer (2014) continues that even the owners of Mars visit the factories and headquarters everyday and are extremely involved in the business. This high degree of involvement, says Baker (1980) allows managers to solve problems faster and leads to greater organisational success. At Mars, this success manifests in the large market share it occupies, being one of the world’s most prominent candy manufacturers.

According to Kaliprasad (2006) culture has a strong influence on the organisation’s performance and outcomes. The strong culture at Mars, based on the Five Principles, can be seen to be a vital factor in influencing the organisation’s success. Naor et al. (as cited in Santora, 2009) explains a study demonstrating that a firm’s culture is positively associated with its performance. Saffold III (1988) states that a strong culture unites staff through their shared beliefs and lead them to work collectively towards the organisation’s goals. This strength in unity has seen Mars through an abundance of organisational success; including the billions of dollars in revenues it generates annually, the numerous awards its brands have received and its large social responsibility objective (Crainer, 2014). Therefore, the strong manufactured culture created by management at Mars has contributed to its vast successes.

This essay explored the idea of organisational culture and its different aspects in relation to the billion-dollar candy giant Mars. Schein’s model and Handy’s task culture assessed the different aspects and characteristics of Mars’ culture. Peters and Waterman’s study was analysed and Mars was found to personify the characteristics that successful businesses contain. The essay then contrasted the mainstream perspective of a strong culture, manufactured by management, against the critical perspective of a weaker culture, generated organically by employees. Mars upholds a strong, shared culture that is implemented by management and replicated by staff. Mars’ immense success was found to be associated with the culture that the original founders and subsequent owners implemented and managed throughout the years. This strong culture, rooted on the foundation of The Five Principles unifies staff towards a common professional purpose. This strength in unity has consequently led to the large success of the organisation.



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